666 Charing Cross Road marks a slight departure for Paul Magrs. Actually, not a departure, more a branching off to a parallel road because if you’ve read any of his Brenda & Effie mysteries you’ll be away instantly. There is a new cast and a new country but it definitely has Magrs’s signatures all over it; feisty old women, a mystery and potential ‘end of the world’ events.
I always associate a Paul’s tales with layers of intertextuality, which can be a blessing and curse, as it’s a joy for informed readers and can become a sense of missing something if you’ve not read any of the associated works. But if you haven’t read Paul Magrs or his favourite stories you’re quite safe this time form that sense of missing out. Though if you’re a fan you might be expecting a bit more teasing and knowing winks.
It’s a hard balance to pull off as this could feel like Paul Magrs-lite especially as Paul is big on following through on consequences, as you’ll know if you’re read the Brend & Effie books. So having a blank slate and without those safety net associations it might not work.
Not to worry though as one of Paul’s other strengths is larger-than-life, emotionally diverse, characters and his cast of good guys Liza, Jack, Shelly and Bessie versus Daniel (Shelly’s boyfriend), and his growing army of vampires, play off each other like a damn good soap opera. Now to me this is proper paranormal romance though we won’t linger on that phrase.
I think what I really like about Paul’s writing is that the characters all feel alive even Daniel who turns from a not that nice stiff-upper-lipped Brit to a not very nice vampire but Shelly’s feelings for him and his actions as well as how he’s portrayed give him a proper villainous appeal. So much appeal that Shelly is still enthralled with him for most of the book.
I also like the speed and turns that Jack’s and his new-at-the-start-of-the-book boyfriend Riccardo’s relationship takes. It’s not all a positive portrayal but is telling and revealing. Though the star of the show is Liza, who not only is the catalyst for events, she is also the one that rolls up her leaves to tackle them. And I like her best of all because her past only gets hinted it at and gives her a lot of potential for other ‘adventures.’
Paul Magrs manages to bring something new to the vampire romance sub-genre focusing more on the must-stop-the-bad-boyfriend-from-taking-over-world element and less on the seduction into evil. Though several keys moments resolve around that seduction.
It wouldn’t be a Magr’s tale without plenty of humour and teasing and as usual, I think, he gets it spot on. Especially one key moment that involves the phrase “well fuck that for a game of soldiers!’ it being completely unexpected and having me giggling for ages.
I want to say this the same but different even if that does sound like a criticism. It’s not a wild departure from the kind of thing I’ve come to expect which is where the sameness comes from but it is different enough for them not to be Effie, Brenda and Robert with new close and new hair.
In fact it would be quite easy for the Liza, Shelly, Jack, Effie Brenda and Robert all to meet up and for their worlds to blend easily together (especially as two of them may have a very special connection) and if you had a dinning room scene you’d be able to tell at once who was talking from a transcript with their names left off.
The greatest compliment you can pay to a book I think is want to come back and see the characters again. And although it’s complete I can quite easily see them getting together easily to save the world again.